Players at all levels set goals. Some are statistical, others are more about stages of development. Cardinals prospect Oscar Mercado had his sights on one postseason accomplishment: an invite to the Arizona Fall League."It was actually a goal of mine before the year started," Mercado said. "I figured it could
Players at all levels set goals. Some are statistical, others are more about stages of development. Cardinals prospect Oscar Mercado had his sights on one postseason accomplishment: an invite to the Arizona Fall League.
"It was actually a goal of mine before the year started," Mercado said. "I figured it could help me out a lot. I was like if you have a good year, maybe you get the chance to do it. They talk about all the guys who go through here and get the chance to play in the big leagues, so obviously it was something I really wanted to do. I was just happy I was able to accomplish my goal, represent the organization out here, obviously with the best players. It's something I'm going to try to take in, enjoy and go out there and do my best."
• Arizona Fall League roster & stats
Mercado playing well enough to warrant a trip to play for the Surprise Saguaros this fall was no slam dunk. Prior to the 2017 season, the 2013 second-round pick had a career .230 average and was coming off a 2016 season that saw him finish with just a .567 OPS, albeit in the pitching-friendly confines of Palm Beach. This was not a player who looked like he was on the verge of a breakout.
"I always worked hard every offseason, but going into this offseason I kind of felt like it was more on me to get after it and make a statement," Mercado said. "I felt like it was my last chance to really prove myself. Just give it your all and if it happens, it happens. If not, at least you can live with the fact that you gave it your all. I think it paid off, obviously. I was really happy about that and now it's just a matter of keeping going."
Mercado moved up to Double-A and proceeded to hit .287/.341/.428 with 13 homers and 38 stolen bases. There is still work to be done in terms of plate discipline (32 walks vs. 112 strikeouts), but the Cardinals' No. 18 prospect certainly seems headed in the right direction for the first time.
"I think what happens is every player eventually goes through some sort of failure," Mercado said. "It just happened that I went through it more than a lot of players. I cherish it a lot because it helped me grow as a person, it helped me mature and helped me become more mentally strong."
While that maturity, both mentally and physically, has been a huge factor, a move from shortstop to center field clearly played a role in this resurgence. Mercado made the switch in 2016 and played center every day for all of 2017. His comfort level there was on display early on in Fall League action.
"Shortstop was fun; I grew up playing short, but center field, I have a lot of fun out there," Mercado said. "I love every single game going out there knowing I get to make some good plays and help out my pitcher. That's not the kind of confidence I had at shortstop. Just doing that kind of helps me play with a clear mind and it helped me out at the plate a lot."
Cardinals hitters in the Fall League
Andrew Knizner, C -- Knizner, who began his college career at North Carolina State as a third baseman, moved behind the plate after his freshman year. He's taken to the position well and really jumped on the prospect map with a strong first full season in 2017, double jumping from A ball to Double-A and hitting a combined .302/.349/.471. The Cardinals' No. 27 prospect has continued to swing the bat well this fall, going 11-for-28 with a pair of homers and seven RBIs in his first seven Fall League games.
John Nogowski, 1B -- The Cardinals signed Nogowski out of the independent league American Association in June and he proceeded to hit .295/.378/.382 in Double-A over 59 games. He's on the taxi squad in the AFL, meaning he can only play twice a week, but it could set him up for a return to the Cardinals' upper levels in 2018.
Edmundo Sosa, SS/2B -- Injuries have hampered Sosa's development, and he again missed two months this year following hamate bone surgery. So the Cardinals' No. 12 prospect is making up for lost time with Surprise this fall while also seeing time at shortstop (his primary position), second and third base defensively.
Cardinals pitchers in the Fall League
Sandy Alcantara, RHP -- There is no question about Alcantara's raw stuff, headlined by a fastball that touches triple-digits, to go along with an above-average changeup and a power breaking ball that has the chance to be better than average, too. St. Louis' No. 9 prospect is continuing to work on refining his command, something he'll need to do to remain a starter, though he did pitch out of the bullpen during his big league debut this season.
Jordan Hicks, RHP -- Though Hicks was drafted in 2015, he didn't make his pro debut until the following year because of a shoulder issue. He jumped on the radar with a strong summer and followed it up with a solid first full season in 2017, reaching the Florida State League in the process. The Cardinals' No. 14 prospect still needs to work on command, but he also just turned 21 in September.
Josh Lucas, RHP -- Drafted back in 2010, Lucas didn't exactly make a beeline up the organizational ladder. But after recording 33 saves in the last two years, he did make his big league debut in 2017. The 6-foot-6 26-year-old continues to get relief work in this fall, with an eye toward a full-time big league gig in 2018.
Arturo Reyes, RHP -- A 40th-round pick in 2013 out of Gonzaga, Reyes started for much of his Minor League career until he made the move to the bullpen in 2017. He's showing how the transition is going by continuing to pitch out of the bullpen in the AFL as he tries to show he is worthy of a spot on the 40-man roster.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.